Olivia Chow will officially launch her mayoral campaign in Toronto Thursday, marking a new chapter in the life of one of Canada’s most recognized political figures.

In “My Journey,” her recently released memoir, Chow describes life in Toronto as a young immigrant from Hong Kong in the 1970s, her political awakenings, and the devoted partnership she shared with her late husband, Jack Layton.

Here are five things you may not know about Toronto’s newest high-profile mayoral candidate:

Classroom troublemaker

Chow describes her younger self as a “hellion” who was more interested in tossing paper airplanes at her schoolmates than in studying. “I was a terrible student,” she writes. As a result, Chow flunked Grade 3. Things eventually turned around, however. Chow said in her early teens, she learned self-discipline and buckled down on her studies. It paid off: Chow excelled at Jarvis Collegiate and Central Tech, skipped Grade 8, studied philosophy and religion at the University of Toronto and took courses at the Ontario College of Art, now known as OCAD. Chow graduated from the University of Guelph with an honours BA in fine arts.

The outdoorsy type

Seeking respite from her sometimes turbulent family life, a teenage Chow travelled to Ontario’s north to be a junior forest ranger and “fell madly, passionately in love” with the Canadian wilderness. In her book she describes later sharing that passion with Layton. During their marriage, Chow says they often temporarily “escaped” the rigours of political life by taking cycling, camping and canoe trips in places like Manitoulin Island and Vancouver Island and P’tit Train du Nord trail in Quebec.

Political start in education

Despite her lack of interest in the classroom as a child, Chow writes in her book that she learned the value of an education and the importance of giving children a good start in life. So, it was natural that Chow’s first foray into public office was at the school board level, where she successfully ran for a trustee position in 1985, at age 28. There, she says, she advocated for heritage-language classes, and nutrition and anti-bullying programs.

In the early 1990s, Chow was elected as a Toronto city councillor. In 2006, she became an MP for the riding of Trinity-Spadina, joining Layton in the House of Commons.

Chow said she has continually fought for the marginalized, the poor and those who have suffered abuse. She describes in the book her own experiences of physical abuse at the hands of former boyfriends.

Playing cupid

In the book, Olivia Chow describes the downtown Toronto house she shared with Layton as a command post of sorts, where politicians, activists, volunteers and academics regularly met for political gatherings. Layton and Chow also threw parties there, where on more than one occasion, she and Layton played matchmaker. They were particularly meticulous about the pairings, as Chow wrote in her memoir that she and Layton kept a database of single friends and would arrange for them to meet at their house. It worked at least a couple of times -- Chow writes about friends who were married as a result of a Chow-Layton pairing.


Chow said she found solace in art at a young age, and has studied sculpture and photography. In her early twenties, Chow had a sculpture studio, where she created art pieces -- often depicting animals -- for clients. Chow says hundreds of sculptures were cast from her originals and sold in hotel shops. A year after Layton’s 2011 death from cancer, Chow created a bronze sculpture in his likeness. It sits atop a headstone in a cemetery in downtown Toronto, where her husband’s ashes are buried.